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Slippery Rock Gazette: The Little Arboretum that Could

New Sculpture Trail Unveiled at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta, Maine

Peter J. Marcucci
Special Contributor

Photos provided by Viles Arboretum 

It’s the grand opening of a grand idea,” an email from friend and Artist Andreas von Huene said. “A team of us have been working to put the Viles on the map as an outdoor sculpture park, and you’re invited to attend the reception.”           

Hugh Lassen speaks to the crowd about his sculpture “Seed Form,”  made from Glacial Erratic, during the trail tour.It wasn’t until later that I found out that the Viles in the email was actually the Viles Arboretum– a collection of trees and botanical gardens in Augusta, Maine, and on Saturday, June 8, 2013, the grand opening of the newly created sculpture trail at the Viles Arboretum was held. 

Still unnamed, this spherical sculpture by David Sywalski is carved from Chandler Bay granite, while the base was cut from Heritage Valley granite. Both were quarried in Jonesboro, Maine by J.C. Stone, Inc. Total height is about 5 feet and weighs in at about 3 tons.Opening the event was Viles Arboretum board President Dean Corner who, after welcoming all who attended, finished with a brief speech on the importance of art as a source of inspiration. 

“The Storm” by Bill Royall, was the beginning of the “food for thought” process for Mark DesMeules, the team, and the new era of the Viles Arboretum. Next at the podium was Executive Director Mark DesMeules who, after following up with an passionate speech about the trail, then sealed the deal by introducing the team that made the art at the Viles possible: William Royall, Dan Ucci and Andreas von Huene, officially making it the largest outdoor sculpture park in Maine.

“Motion” a sculpture by Jesse Salisbury, was split and carved from “Jonesboro,” a granite supplied by J.C. Stone of Jefferson, Maine. “I am always working with the natural twists and torque possible in stone. My work is a still life of the natural geological movement and gradual change of stone.” “We had a lot of anticipation leading up to the event, and as we introduced the artists, each one had something to say,” explained Mark DesMeules. “Unanimously every single artist was thrilled to know that, finally, we now have a location for public art viewing that does justice to sculpture, meaning the natural environment. Every artist emphasized how important this was for Maine.” 

And shortly after the food, the many smiles and the scores of handshakes, an electrified crowd of visitors, led by Andreas von Huene, hit the trail to experience the icing on the cake: 20 unique sculptures by 15 world-class artists set in the majestic setting of Maine’s finest botanical garden. 

“Andreas was like the Pied Piper as he led people off to view the art, because the entire crowd followed him. He offered wonderful personal anecdotal stories and experiences from past times with each artist. That’s the great part of having a team with different elements of experience and skill associated with each member,” DesMeules said.

Visitors in search of interactive hands-on education are nothing new to the Viles Arboretum.

It’s been a viable entity for 31 years, consisting mostly of ever-changing botanical collections within 224 acres of forests, fields and wetlands. Services such as parking, restrooms, visitor center, maps and a welcoming attitude for everyone to come view and hike the trails have been the draw for years, but due to economic factors as of late, that has not been enough, says DesMeules. 

“When I came here, the board asked me to take the reins and look at the overall organization and tell them what we have to do to make it more of a destination for a region-wide constituency as well as build membership, build the endowment, and increase our donor pool. Basically, wake the place up. It’s been in first gear, and now it’s time to shift to second and third gear.”

That wake-up began a few years ago with a donation from Elsie Viles, a benefactor who recently passed away.

She had gifted the arboretum with “The Storm,” a sculpture carved by Artist Bill Royall. That’s what got the inspiration going and initially led Mark DesMeules and the team to the idea of incorporating sculpture with the botanicals. After placement of “The Storm” on the grounds, Mark and Bill just looked at each other thinking— “What if?” 

“I was very familiar with deCordova, a museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts that is well known for its art. I turned to Bill and said, ‘You know, I can see turning the Arboretum into a similar viewscape as deCordova has done with art.’ 

“Bill also knew deCordova and a light went off, and he said, ‘Boy, you’re right!’ Then the very next day Bill called me on the phone and said, ‘I want to come up and meet with you, and I’m bringing a couple of friends along.’ 

“He had Dan Ucci and Andreas with him, and he said, ‘I want to come back to the deCordova idea because Viles Arboretum is just perfect for a sculpture park.’ 

“So, we brainstormed sitting around the kitchen table and, by golly, by the end of the day we were putting into place a step one, a step two, and so on. I’m in the position of Executive Director, and I said, ‘Yes, we can do that. Let’s make it happen,’ and within three days we had installed the first sculpture foundation.” 

Amazingly by fall of 2012, fifteen sculptures had been placed on their foundations with five more waiting to be placed after the spring thaw. A huge body of work by fifteen Maine artists now had a secure home, and better, a steady flow of visitors to appreciate them year after year. 

“It was a real eye-opener to me to see the amount of work that went into just getting things ready in addition to the delivery of the art. We are talking about sculptures that way tens of thousands of pounds out of granite, basalt, schist, and marble, so building the foundation holes so we wouldn’t have any frost shift was paramount.” 

Mark went on to explain that there is a much bigger plan underway at the Arboretum, and the art is a significant component, but not the only component of what they are trying to accomplish. To different degrees, most arboretums across the country have an element of art associated within them, and many have made art a significant component of the experience when visiting an arboretum to view nature. 

What’s more, he said, it’s an interesting venue added to all the other venues at Viles, and the art enriches all who visit. 

“We established community gardens here two years ago and now have thirty-six private gardeners. They have all become members and have brought in a whole new group of people who might not have ever come here. In non-profit, ‘well liked’ translates into ‘well funded.’ You have to have something for everyone.” 

Other new venues and amenities at the Viles Arboretum include a farmers’ market, dog sledding, cross country skiing, various art shows, 5k cross country run with a barbeque at the end, natural history day camp, and The American Chestnut Celebration. 

“The building blocks have been identified and are being constructed, and the art is part of that. We are offering all kinds of new things to bring in new people, but we can’t do it overnight. 

“Since the art arrived, and it’s not just the art, our membership has increased by 135 members in less than a year, and I look at that and think ‘Holy Cow—that’s amazing!’ This is really a big deal and it’s not over yet! We are also talking about a symposium in 2014. 

“We have all the amenities, and we might be having one of them here. We even want to offer young people the opportunity to work with some of the world-renowned artists that are going to be here. To us, the educational aspect is a wonderful component in a symposium and we look forward to offering it.” 

When I asked Mark what he would say to a family thinking about visiting the Viles Arboretum he remarked, “You will not be disappointed. Every year that goes by you will see more and more reasons to see the Arboretum.”

A new era has arrived at the Viles Arboretum. Mark and company are committed and will continue to breathe new life into the organization with ongoing enhancements including a million dollar landscape initiative as well as sculpture—lots of sculpture. Whether you’re with family or friends, if you enjoy sculpture surprises wrapped in luscious landscape, make an effort to get there.

Featured Maine Artists:

Andreas von Huene-Arrowsic
Hugh Lassen-Cherryfield
David Sywalski-Cherryfield
Mark Herrington-Franklin
Paul Kozak-Hull’s Cove
William Royall-Southport
Jesse Salisbury-Steuben
Rob Lash-Gardener
Digby Veevers Carter-West Bath
Dan Ucci-East Pitston
Jordan Smith-Pownal
Jay Sawyer-Warren
Roy Patterson-Gray
Steven Porter-Searsmont
Adam Weidmann-Portland

Special acknowledgment also goes out to Jamie Carle and Kathleen Carle of J.C. Stone, Jefferson, Maine, for their support and efforts.

Peter J. Marcucci has over 25 years of fabrication experience in the stone industry.

This article was originally published in the Slippery Rock Gazette.

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